Take Two: THE 5,000 FINGERS OF DR. T.

[2017 Preface: I'm reposting this article less than a month after its last posting on this site because Powerhouse Films in the U.K. has just sent me, at my request, its impressive "Limited Dual Format Edition" of this remarkable movie, and so far, the only complaint I have relevant to its riches is that they didn't access this 1978 article about it any sooner. If they had, some of the uncertainties and/or wrong guesses made by Glenn Kenny and Nick Pinkerton in their often informative audiocommentary probably wouldn't be there. For the record then--to cite only a couple of matters not covered in the article below that conflict with their suppositions (apart from the mispronounciation of La Jolla)--in 1953, at age ten, I already knew who Dr. Seuss was because many of his books were already widely available but, even as a devoted radio listener,  I didn't know who Peter Lind Hayes and Mary Healy were.]

The principal source of this article — written for American Film, and published in their October 1978 issue — was a fairly lengthy phone conversation I once had with Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991), better known as Dr. Seuss, when I was living in San Diego.Read more »

Two Books about Otto Preminger

From Cineaste, Summer 2008 (Vol. XXXIII, No. 3). It’s gratifying that Such Good Friends has finally come out on DVD. — J.R.

The World and its Double: The Life and Work of Otto Preminger

by Chris Fujiwara. New York: Faber & Faber, 479 pp., illus. Hardcover: $35.00.

 

Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King

by Foster Hirsch. New York: Alfred A, Knopf, 573 pp., illus. Hardcover: $35.00

 

Few film directors resist critical biography as much as Otto Preminger, given all the puzzling and intractable mismatches one encounters as soon as one tries to reconcile his very public life with his no less private body of work as an auteur. This is a difficulty acknowledged in the title and subtitle of Chris Fujiwara’s book, and one he essentially tries to resolve by splitting most of his chapters into two sections. But the overall disassociation of Preminger’s life and work, even though it’s addressed by this structure, still becomes a kind of structuring absence that haunts this biography as well as Foster Hirsch’s, which tries to integrate the two concerns more conventionally.Read more »

The Vision of the Conquered

This appeared in the Chicago Reader (February 21, 1992), and is reprinted in my 1997 collection Movies as Politics. — J.R.

RHAPSODY IN AUGUST

*** (A must-see)

Directed and written by Akira Kurosawa

With Sachiko Murase, Hisashi Igawa, Mie Suzuki, Tomoko Ohtakara, Mitsunori Isaki, Hidetaka Yoshioka, and Richard Gere.

Next month, Akira Kurosawa will be celebrating his 82nd birthday. Having long outlived the two other supreme masters of the Japanese cinema — Kenji Mizoguchi, who died in 1956, and Yasujiro Ozu, who died in 1963 — he bears the handicap of living on in an era that clearly seems remote and alien to him, despite the fact that his work has enjoyed much more currency in the 80s and early 90s than that of any of his near-contemporaries.


I’ve always been somewhat slow to appreciate the mastery of Kurosawa in relation to the works of Mizoguchi and Ozu, perhaps in part because I started off on the wrong footing. The first Kurosawa film I ever saw was Rashomon (1950), the single movie that was most responsible for introducing the western world to the Japanese cinema, and, as it happens, I saw it as a teenager only after reading the two short stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa that it was based on.… Read more »

From a Far Country (Review of Burch’s TO THE DISTANT OBSERVER)

From American Film (July-August 1979). Incidentally, Criterion’s recent Blu-Ray of Ugetsu is ravishing, regardless of what Burch says (or, rather, doesn’t say).– J.R.

To the Distant Observer: Form and Meaning in the Japanese Cinema by Noël Burch. Revised and edited by Annette Michelson. University of California Press, $19.50.

The most ambitious and detailed study of Japanese cinema since Joseph L. Anderson and Donald Richie’s pioneering history appeared twenty years ago, Noël Burch’s To the Distant Observer adopts an overall approach that is radically different from that of its predecessor. Modernist and materialist in orientation where other critics have been realist and transcendental, Burch argues for a nearly total revision of the way we perceive Japanese film  – proposing a new set of criteria as well as an alternate canon of masterpieces.

To call his book controversial would almost be an understatement. Copies of a draft were circulated among a few film scholars in London more than four years ago, sparking a heated debate that has raged ever since. For Burch is arguing that “the most fruitful, original period” the Japanese film history coincided with the years between 1934 and 1943, when the Japanese people embraced “a national ideology akin to European fascism”.  Read more »

Richard Linklater as Global Regionalist [on BERNIE]

My 27th column for Caiman Cuadernos de Cine, formerly known as Cahiers du Cinéma España, which appeared, I believe, in their July-August 2012 issue. — J.R.

I have a habit as a critic that I suspect irritates some of my readers. When I find that my opinion about a new film differs substantially from that of the mainstream, I sometimes theorize that the reasons for this must be ideological. In this manner, I speculated that the immoderate fascination of other Americans with the mad serial killers of The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and No   Country for Old Men (2007), which somehow seemed motivated by a twisted identification with them -– and especially with the capacity and eagerness of these psychotics to kill innocent people without any compunctions — were related to the fact that these films came out during the first  and second Gulf wars, when Americans were killing innocent people with no compunctions at all, and sometimes even exhibiting comparable displays of glee about this mindless activity.

More recently, I’ve been puzzling over the fact that Richard Linklater’s latest feature, Bernie, a masterpiece that has been clearly delighting many of the audiences that come to see it, was only released after many delays, wasn’t sent to Cannes, and has been doing poorly at the box office —  a fate similar to that of Linklater’s previous feature, Me and Orson Welles (2011), another treasured project which took him many years to finance, and one also dominated by a remarkable central performance (Christian McKay as Orson Welles, Jack Black as Bernie Tiede).… Read more »

Bambi Rides Again

From The Financial Times (Friday, July 2, 1976). This was the second and last time that I took over Nigel Andrews’ weekly film column while he away. — J.R.

Bambi (U)

Odeon, St. Martin’s Lane

Lifeguard (AA)

Ritz

When the Leaves Fall

National Film Theatre

Thirty-four years have passed since Walt Disney’s Bambi first hit the screen. Yet barring only its quaintly dated musical score – six unremarkable tunes by Frank Churchill and Edward Plumb that are well below the usual Disney standard – an unsuspecting child who can’t read Roman numerals might assume that it was made yesterday. It is no small irony that a movie only slightly more than half as old, Silk Stockings (1957), gets treated like a museum piece worthy of nostalgia in the recent That’s Entertainment Part II, while this animated feature gets born afresh for each new generation – not so much like a phoenix rising out of its ashes as like a display of calendar art circulated periodically, with only the dates changing.… Read more »

Number Seventeen (1975 review)[correction added]

This review from the August 1975 Monthly Film Bulletin (vol. 42, no. 499) probably features my first use of the word “diagesis“, which I must have learned about very shortly before. (As I recall, it was Laura Mulvey who explained to me what the term meant.) I’m not at all confident now that I absolutely had to use it.

An email sent on 9/4/09 from Adrian Martin: “Great to re-read your MFB pieces, which were among the earliest writings of yours I encountered as they appeared ! But your memorable NUMBER 17 piece raises a great historic mystery that has often plagued me, and which (I now realise) you may be at the centre of !! And that is the mysterious (mis)spelling of ‘diegesis’ – that is definitely the correct spelling, via the Greek root – as ‘diagesis’, which (as I recall) ran rife through FILM COMMENT and SIGHT AND SOUND for a while in the mid to late 70s (after a while, it seemed like some editorial superimposition by Corliss or Houston or whomever). It seemed to me, at the time, as the biggest symptom of the non- communication between film journalism and the theory academy! But maybe you have another version of where ‘diagesis’ came from ??Read more »

Blackmail (1974 review)

This appeared in the October 1974 issue of Monthly Film Bulletin. This was long before the silent version of Blackmail was rediscovered and restored. — J.R.

Blackmail

Great Britain, 1929                                 Director: Alfred Hitchcock

The extraordinary plateau attained by Hitchcock’s first sound film in relation to his overall development is the sum of many accomplishments: above all, a decisive mastery in moving back and forth between objective and subjective narrative modes. If the point-of-view is one of the cornerstones in Hitchcockian syntax, the film quite likely represents the first time in the director career that it is woven so seamlessly into a plot that all notions of stylistic “touches” gives way to a sustained psychological density. Beginning virtually like a documentary, Blackmail provides a quick foretaste of subjective truth in its early glimpses of the anonymous criminal, which subtly veer from the police’s viewpoint to his own – shifting, that is, from one kind of fear and apprehension to another. The complex overtones and ambiguities of the film are informed throughout by this kind of duplicity and intimacy, which oblige us to identify with rapist along with potential victim, murderer along with corpse, and detective along with blackmailer, at the same time as we are asked to regard them all with a certain amused skepticism.… Read more »

The Ring (1976 review)

This was originally published in the July 1976 issue of the Monthly Film Bulletin (vol. 43, no. 510), to coincide with the release of Hitchcock’s Family Plot (illustrated on the cover, and reviewed in that issue by the editor, Richard Combs).  — J.R.

Ring, The

Great Britain, 1927
Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Dist—BFI. p.c–British International Pictures. p–John Maxwell. asst. d—Frank Mills. story/sc—Alfred Hitchcock. continuity—Alma Reville. ph—John J. Cox.  a.d—Wilfred Arnold. l.p—Carl Brisson (“One Round” Jack Sander), Lillian Hall-Davies (Nelly), Ian Hunter (Bob Corby), Forrester Harvey (Harry), Harry Terry (Barker), Gordon Harker (Trainer), Billy Wells (Boxer). 3,179 ft. (at 16 f.p.s.) 132 min. (16mm). Original 35 mm footage—8,400 ft.

At a traveling circus, prizefighter “One Round” Jack Sander is knocked out and defeated for the first time in his show by Bob Corby, an Australian heavyweight, and a mutual attraction develops between the latter and Nelly, Jack’s ticket-seller fiancée. With his prize money, Bob buys Nelly an arm bracelet which she hides from Jack, and Bob’s manager offers Jack the chance of a job as the champion’s sparring partner if he wins a trial match, which he grudgingly accepts.… Read more »

Half-Caste Agit-Prop [THE CHANT OF JIMMIE BLACKSMITH]

From The Soho News (September 3, 1980). –- J.R.

 

CHANTOFJIMMIEBLACKSMITH

 

The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith

Written and directed by Fred Schepisi

Based on the novel by Thomas Keneally

For a good 80 percent or so of its running time, the experience

of seeing  The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith affords a

salutary, beautiful shock. Films that are even halfway honest

about racism — Mandingo and Richard Pryor Live in

Concert are the most recent examples that spring to mind

– are so unexpected that they’re often accused of being racist

themselves, perhaps because of the deeply rooted taboos that

they expose and violate.

 

There’s no question that Fred Schepisi’s powerhouse Australian

movie — adapted from a novel by Thomas Keneally (who plays a

small but significant role as a lecherous cook), and “based on real

events that took place in Australia at the turn of the century”

(just before the federation of Australian colonies) – is agit-prop,

ideologically slanted. But then again, it’s hard to think of any

other current release — including, say, The Empire Strikes

Back and Dressed to Kill -– that isn’t.

The aforementioned hits perform in part the not-so-innocent

task of turning contemporary objects of confusion and disgust

(recent architecture and sex, respectively) into occasions for

exhilarated lyricism.… Read more »

Declarations of Independents: The Past Recycled

This appeared in The Soho News on March 11, 1981. A month earlier, I had launched a kind of weekly column there called “Declarations of Independents” that was in diary form — a bit like some of my Paris Journals and London Journals for Film Comment during the 70s –- and this was the third of these. — J.R. 

Feb. 24: Why go all the way to the Thalia tonight to see five Screen Directors Playhouse episodes, all half-hour TV shows from the mid-50s?  Two professional reasons spring to mind, both essentially recycling operations. As often happens in such cases, I feel myself split between the two — processes that honor my asocial aesthetics on the one hand, my social politics on the other.

Auteurist Retrieval technology (we’ll call it ART for short) — cultivated by me and a lot of other film freaks in the late 60s — is predicated on the pleasure of recognizing the taletale signs of favorite directors in all sorts of unlikely material. And what better excuse to put ART to work than patriarchal episodes by John Ford, Leo McCarey, Frank Borzage, Tay Garnett, and William Seiter? Indeed, to narrow the focus down to the evening’s main event, what better specimen could one hope to find but a crisp 35mm print of Ford’s Rookie of the Year,  made immediately before his masterpiece The Searchers, with the same scriptwriter (Frank Nugent) and no less than four of the same actors — John Wayne, Pat Wayne, Vera Miles and Ward Bond — playing central roles?… Read more »

Temple of Dumb [INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE]

From the Chicago Reader (June 2, 1989). — J.R.

INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE * (Has redeeming facet)

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Written by Jeffrey Boam, George Lucas, and Menno Meyjes

With Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, River Phoenix, Denholm Elliott, Alison Doody,

Julian Glover, and John Rhys-Davies.

Nazis are fun! Jesus is fun! Arthurian legends are fun! Third world countries are fun! Caves are fun! The Holy Grail is fun! Lots of snakes and rats and skeletons are fun! Chases are fun! Narrow escapes are fun! Explosions are fun! Indiana Jones is fun! Indiana Jones’s father is fun!

Put them all together and you get the third panel in Steven Spielberg and George Lucas’s Indiana Jones triptych — more fun than a barrel of monkeys (or Nazis, chalices, snakes, rats, skeletons — whatever). Though Hitler, Jesus, women, the third world, and, by implication, most of the rest of civilization ultimately take a backseat to the uneasy yet affectionate relationship between a grown boy and his dad — and all those millions of people exterminated by the Nazis (for instance) don’t even warrant so much as a look-in — this is nothing new in the Lucas-Spielberg canon; it isn’t even anything new in movies.… Read more »

Paris Journal (July-August 1974)

From the July-August 1974 Film Comment. Portions of this column (one of my best, and crankiest) have appeared elsewhere, including on this site, but this is the full version. -– J.R.
thegreatdictatorspeech

chaplin-great-dictator-speech

February 16: Chaplin’s THE GREAT DICTATOR. As a friend has pointed out, Chaplin doesn’t really belong to the history of cinema; he belongs to history. What for another artist might only come across as misjudgment, naïveté or bad taste often registers in a Chaplin film as personal/ historical testimony of the most candid and searing sort. Thus the total inadequacy of his impassioned speech at the end of THE GREAT DICTATOR — as art, as thought, as action, as anything — becomes the key experience that the film has to offer, revealing the limitations of human utterance in face of the unspeakable. For roughly two hours, ChapIin has been trying to defeat Hitler by using every trick that he knows; finally exhausting his capacities for comedy and ridicule, and realizing that neither is enough, he turns to us in his own person and tries even harder, making a direct plea for hope. But while he effectively annihilates the Tramp before our eyes, he simultaneously recreates him in a much more profound way, exposing the brutal fact of his own helplessness.… Read more »

Double Dealing [THE FISHER KING]

From the Chicago Reader (September 27, 1991). This film is now available on a Criterion Blu-Ray. Although I still have some issues with the film, after reseeing it on this edition, Terry Gilliam’s audio commentary is terrific, and his own enthusiasm for the film is often compelling. — J.R.

THE FISHER KING

Directed by Terry Gilliam

Written by Richard LaGravenese

With Jeff Bridges, Robin Williams, Mercedes Ruehl, Amanda Plummer, Michael Jeter, and Tom Waits.

Terry Gilliam’s elephantine yet breezy The Fisher King is a gripping new-age extravaganza, visually splendid and adroitly paced. But some gross conceptual cheating — presumably the fallout of commercial ambitions — makes the film a little hard to swallow. Gilliam’s fifth feature (he also directed Jabberwocky, Time Bandits, Brazil, and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen) revels in duality — everything comes in twos — so it’s little wonder it indulges in both duplicity and outright doublethink; the film is also littered with internal “rhymes,” both significant and gratuitous. This duality may come partly from the fact that for the first time Gilliam has not written the script himself — it’s by talented newcomer Richard LaGravenese. At any rate the duality echoes Gilliam’s well-advertised desire to make this both an artistic and commercial success — to prove he can turn out a money-maker (after the box-office flop of Baron Munchausen) and yet retain his reputation as an overachiever in the grand style, a director known for his quirky humor and ravishing visual conceits.… Read more »

The Empire’s New Clothes [NEW SUIT]

From the Chicago Reader (November 28, 2003). — J.R.

New Suit

** (Worth seeing)

Directed by Francois Velle

Written by Craig Sherman

With Jordan Bridges, Marisa Coughlan, Heather Donahue, Dan Hedaya, Mark Setlock, Benito Martinez, Charles Rocket, and Paul McCrane.

As the opening narration makes clear, New Suit – a satirical comedy about Hollywood suits — is loosely based on “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Kevin Taylor, a 24-year-old script editor and frustrated screenwriter, is already jaded after 18 months working in the office of has-been producer Muster Hansau. Taylor (Jordan Bridges) gets especially irritated one day after hearing some of his hotshot coworkers spout bullshit at the studio commissary. He gets up from the table and buys a strawberry ice cream cone from a guy named Jordan, then returns and starts talking about an imaginary hot new script called “New Suit” by an imaginary writer named Jordan Strawberry that he says his bosses are excitedly pursuing.

His tablemates simultaneously claim they’ve already heard about the script and pump him for more information. Before long the whole town is talking about this promising property — especially after Kevin’s former girlfriend Marianne, a rising agent, overhears him saying that Strawberry is “unrepresented.” She promptly claims to be representing him, which starts a bidding war between two studios.… Read more »